A number of factors can influence the welfare of laboratory animals, such as an injection, taking blood samples, operations or illnesses.
New surroundings, lack of access to food or water and loud noises can also affect an animal's welfare. The nature and degree of the animal's 'discomfort' can therefore vary widely.
Categories of discomfort
The Experiments on Animals Act divides the level of discomfort experienced by laboratory animals into categories. This makes it easier to communicate with colleagues, other institutions and society about welfare and the negative effects on welfare.
- the procedures are exclusively conducted under general anaesthesia, the animal will not regain consciousness and will be euthanised
- no significant impediment of the animal's well-being or general condition
- or: short-term mild form of pain, suffering or distress
- moderate impairment of the animal's well-being or general condition
- or: long-lasting mild pain, suffering or distress
- or: short-term moderate pain, suffering or distress
- severe impairment of the animal's well-being or general condition
- or: severe pain, suffering or distress
- or: long-lasting moderate pain, suffering or distress
Know your animals
When estimating the level of discomfort experienced by laboratory animals, it is essential to have knowledge of the animal species and race. For example, ask the following questions about the animal:
- Where does this animal species live in its natural habitat?
- Which behaviour will it perform in that habitat?
- How does this behaviour relate to the behavioural possibilities in the animal's accommodations during the experiment?
- What is known in the literature regarding the impact of the procedure on this animal species?
- Can one assume that the animal is experiencing pain or discomfort? Use the analogy principle: if the procedure would cause pain in humans, then it is very likely that the procedure would cause pain in an animal with the similar biological structures.
Prevention and relief of discomfort
It is important to prevent discomfort and offer pain relief. Think in advance about the way in which you will do this in your animal experiments. The Designated Veterinarian of your animal facility can offer advice.